Created By: Baeraad555 on September 4, 2017 Last Edited By: Baeraad555 on September 13, 2017
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Slippery MacGuffin

This object is the key to the entire plot, so it's a shame that it seems to be so hard for anyone to hold on to.

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It's a powerful magical artifact, unique high-tech gadget or just an extremely valuable prize. As long as the hero can hold on to it, they will be victorious in the end... which is of course why they are constantly dropping it or having it stolen from them. If the item is the source of their power, this will serve to create a frequent Drama-Preserving Handicap by forcing them to solve a problem by themselves that would have been trivially easy if the absence of the item hadn't caused them to be Brought Down to Normal. Either way, both tense scenes and longer plot arcs can be created by the hero desperately trying to get the item back.

Sometimes this is justified with the item being an Empathic Weapon or Artifact of Doom that has a will of its own and either doesn't want to stay with the protagonist or takes a perverse delight in "testing" them by withdrawing its help and seeing how they get by without it. Other times, though, it's just another example of protagonists having the worst possible luck as long as that makes things more exciting.

Another possible variation of the trope is the magical artifact of Game Breaking power that the protagonists need to locate for a single, critical use. Having employed it to resolve their current troubles, they will promptly lose it, which is explained by the item being too magical and mysterious to stay in any one person's hands for too long.

Contrast the Loyal Phlebotinum, which won't abandon you and will actively try to get back to you even if you should lose it anyway, and Clingy MacGuffin, which you can't get rid of no matter how much you might want to. Note that in some cases, whether a MacGuffin is Slippery or Clingy/Loyal depends on your perspective. A talisman that is trying to return to its true owner will be Clingy in regards to that owner, but Slippery to anyone else who tries to hold on to it.

If this trope is sped up to the point where no one can hold on to the object for more than a few seconds, you will end up with a MacGuffin Melee.


Examples of this trope include:

Film
  • The One Ring in The Lord of the Rings movies wants to return to its true master Sauron, and will subtly influence events to make that happen. In the backstory, it abandoned first Isildur and then Gollum at a critical time. In The Two Towers, it also manipulates Frodo into offering it to a Nazgul during the siege of Osgiliath. It is only thanks to Sam's interference that Sauron doesn't get the Ring back.

Literature
  • Lord of the Rings: Similar to the film version of the books (see above), the One Ring is a Slippery MacGuffin to the heroes because it's a Clingy MacGuffin to its evil creator Sauron.
  • Robert Jordan's novel Conan the Magnificent plays with this trope. The villain's (literal and figurative) Dragon can only be slain by a certain magical sword, which can only be granted to a worthy wielder, and only once in a lifetime. If the true wielder loses the sword, it will eventually find its way back to the sacred grove where it is normally kept, and only then can it be granted to a new wielder. Conan is not the chosen wielder, and so from the moment he picks up the sword he's doomed to lose it - but since by the time he gets his hands on it, he's standing right in front of the dragon, he doesn't actually need to hold on to it for more than the few seconds it takes him to slay the beast.

Live-Action TV
  • The epynomous Witchblade is said to be prone to abandoning its wielder in her time of need, something Sara gets to experience a few times over the course of the series. Flashbacks show that previous wielder Joan of Arc died crying out to it, demanding to know why it had betrayed her.
  • Wil Ohmsford in The Shannara Chronicles can't seem to keep hold of the Elfstones for more than five minutes in a row. You'd think he'd at least tie that pouch to his wrist or something.
  • The episode "Bad Day At Black Rock" of Supernatural features a magical rabbit's foot that grants incredible luck as long as you have it, but which also curses you with equally bad luck if you lose it. Naturally, part of the enchantment is that you'll always lose it before long.

Tabletop Games
  • The City of Angels supplement for Demon: The Fallen mentions a magical sextant created by the demon Gripontel. It can lead its bearer to any destination, but will often mysteriously disappear after doing so.

Video Game
  • Nethack has the amulet of Yendor. The entire game is about finding it (and offering it to your god). But one of the bosses will do its hardest to reappear and take it from you. Oh, and beware shoddy plastic knockoffs. It would be ever so embarrassing to offer one of those instead.
  • The Daedric artifacts from The Elder Scrolls are extremely powerful magical items (often weapons) that mark their wielder as a champion of a particular Daedric Prince and are usually earned by completing a quest for them. However, as you can obtain most of them in every game of the series, it is explained in-universe that these artifacts have a will of their own and never stay with a particular wielder for long. In many (but not all) cases, their respective Daedric masters outright instruct you to kill their previous carriers to obtain them.
Community Feedback Replies: 7
  • September 4, 2017
    SasquatchJim
    The pair of shotguns in Lock Stock And Two Smoking Barrels would likely count, as they change hands half a dozen times throughout the film.

    Supernatural also had this as a plot point in Bad Day At Black Rock. The luck-granting rabbit's foot would always be lost or transferred after a short period of time.
  • September 4, 2017
    Baeraad555
    I added the Supernatural entry, but someone who's actually seen Lock Stock And Two Smoking Barrels is going to have to write an entry for it.
  • September 5, 2017
    Arivne
    • Examples section
      • Added a line separating the Description and Examples section.
      • Added media section titles.
      • De-Pot Holed work names as per How To Write An Example - State the source and Word Cruft - Technologically-aided obfuscation.
  • September 5, 2017
    henke37
    • Nethack has the amulet of Yendor. The entire game is about finding it (and offering it to your god). But one of the bosses will do its hardest to reappear and take it from you. Oh, and beware shoddy plastic knockoffs. It would be ever so embarrassing to offer one of those instead.
  • September 6, 2017
    Koveras
    I am not sure, but would Daedric artifacts from The Elder Scrolls count? They are extremely powerful magical items (often weapons) that mark their wielder as a champion of a particular Daedric Prince and are usually earned by completing a quest for them. However, as you can obtain most of them in every game of the series, it is explained in-universe that these artifacts have a will of their own and never stay with a particular wielder for long. In many (but not all) cases, their respective Daedric masters outright instruct you to kill their previous carriers to obtain them.
  • September 6, 2017
    Snicka
    Two additions to The Lord Of The Rings example:
    • This is taken one step further in Peter Jackson's The Lord Of The Rings movies, where, near the end of The Two Towers, the Ring manipulates Frodo into offering it to a Nazgul during the siege of Osgiliath. It is only thanks to Sam's interference that Sauron doesn't get the Ring back.
    • At the climax of both the book and the film, it gets inverted: in a crucial moment where Frodo should let go of the ring and throw it into the fire of Mount Doom, it manipulates his mind so that he's unable to let it go and destroy it.
  • September 6, 2017
    eroock
    How does this relate to Mac Guffin Melee?
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